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Red Wing Archaeological Preserve
(The Energy Park Site)    
 
Site Number(s):   21GD158, 21GD52  
County:   Goodhue, MN  
City Township:   Red Wing  
Images (thumbnails)    (big)     (medium)     (small)       


The history of archaeological preservation in the Red Wing Locality is a mixture of misfortune and success. With a combination of grassroots interest and strong legislative support, a site that forms an integral part of Red Wing's ancient heritage was saved from development. What is now The Red Wing Archaeological Preserve, also known as the Energy Park site, was once a thriving village where people lived, in about the 13th century CE.


Background Research


 
 
This small village and surrounding group of mounds were first mapped by T. H. Lewis in 1885. He recorded a flat-topped rectangular mound at this site. Such mounds, sometimes called "temple mounds", were often built by the Middle Mississippian peoples.

1885 Lewis map
1885 Lewis map showing platform mound.

 
 



"Seven of this [mound] group are broad-elongated [in shape], and one is a flat-topped rectangular mound, having dimensions of 48 ft. by 60 ft. and 4 ft. high . . . This abrupt diversion from the usual shape of these mounds is remarkable, and this mound may have been used for a different purpose . . . " (Lewis Survey Notes, 1880s)

 
 



The prehistoric village itself was not discovered until 1984. It had undergone very little disturbance, so this site provided an ideal testing ground for new survey methods that provide below-ground information without excavation. Application of these advanced techniques produced exciting results.


Energy Park site aerial photo
Aerial photo from Energy Park showing "crop marks" that indicate remains of pits and other features made by peoples of the past.

 
 



During a severe drought in 1988, a series of "crop marks" appeared in the site area and were visible from both the air and the ground. Aerial photographs taken in July clearly show patches of darker vegetation in the same areas where artifact concentrations were discovered earlier. Small patches, about 5 meters in diameter, were grouped in a circle roughly 40 meters in diameter around the central portion of the site. It is possible that these discolorations in vegetation represent structures or refuse pits near structures. This pattern possibly indicates that there may have been an open area in the center of the village. Many Middle Mississippian villages were organized around a central plaza, so the archaeologists were intrigued by what this clue might mean.


Research Questions


The principal goal of the Energy Park site investigations was to examine an undisturbed village bearing materials similar to the Silvernale site. The hope was to understand the site as a functioning community. Research was designed to study many aspects of the lives of the people who lived there, including, but not limited to, the types of artifacts they made and used.

 
 



The village and mound portions of the site were purchased for preservation in the late 1980s. In the late 1800s, there were 64 mounds on the property. Although plowing had destroyed some of these, the village to the north of the mounds was much more intact than most of the other villages near Red Wing.


Acquiring a License to Dig


Both federal and state law require that archaeologists have a license from the Office of the State Archaeologist before beginning to dig. In Minnesota, the Energy Park site was given Site Number "21GD158".
See: Doing Archaeology in Minnesota -- Laws


Survey and Scientific Investigation


 
 



Surface collecting
Surface collecting at the Energy Park site.



Archaeologists surface surveyed and then excavated small portions of the site. Clusters of artifacts, such as the debris left over from making stone tools and pieces of broken ceramic vessels, were in distinct groupings, suggesting specific activity areas.

 
 



New scientific methods were used to examine the site. For example, soil resistivity measurements revealed "pictures" of underground features, by passing a small electrical current through the ground. Storage pits and house depressions contained looser soil than did the undisturbed layers of dirt around them. The soil resistivity equipment read the depressions and disturbed soil as less resistant to the electrical current.

 
 




Resistivity map
Resitivity map. Areas of disturbance, where cultural material is likely to be found, are represented by the lines and spots on the map.

Soil resistivity testing was used in most of the village site, with two goals in mind:

  • to develop a better understanding of the original layout of the village, including where people's houses, storage pits and working areas were located more than 800 years ago; and
  • to help the archaeologists decide where to excavate to get the most information from their investigations.
 
 



Excavation at the Energy Park Site
View of 1987 excavations at 21GD158.


Archaeological excavations also produced interesting results. A series of deep trash pits was discovered along the northeastern edge of the site. These pits contained characteristic village refuse and freshwater mussel shells. The presence of these shells possibly indicates that the pits were filled during the late spring or early summer. Animal (faunal) remains recovered by the archaeologists include young birds and mammals.

 
 



Analysis of the Findings


The Energy Park pottery is similar to the types found at the Bryan, Silvernale, and Mero villages, including Mississippian-like, Oneota, and Late Woodland styles.

The Energy Park village is thought to have been used for only a short time. The people who lived there disposed of their trash well away from where they lived and worked. The types of stone tools found shows that the people hunted animals for food and processed the hides.

 
 



Excavation unit
Horizontal planview of a bison scapula hoe feature.


Bison scapula hoe in situ
Larger artifacts that may indicate a feature are typically left in situ and the surrounding soil is excavated for related artifacts.

 
 



The residents of the Energy Park village were also farmers, as demonstrated by the discovery of Bison scapula hoes and antler rakes. The archaeologists also found items made of "exotic" (not local) materials, as well as a projectile point characteristic of those found at Cahokia, 500 miles downriver.


Bison blade hoe
Bison scapula hoe recovered from 21GD158 in 1987. Scapulae were sometimes used for cultivation purposes.

 
 



Conclusions and Results


Based on this research, the Energy Park site is considered to be related to villages that date to the "Silvernale", or Mississippian, period at Red Wing. Like most other Silvernale phase villages in this region, the village area is surrounded by a group of mounds. This particular mound group contains the flat-topped pyramidal mound mentioned previously. The presence of a village site so close to this presumably Middle Mississippian architectural feature is especially intriguing.

 
 



Rimsherd from Energy Park
Rim sherd from 21GD158.


Rimsherd from Energy Park
Rim sherd recovered in 1987.

 
 



Galena (a lead mineral) cubes and fragments, as well as typical Mississipian-like pottery and other items, show there was contact between Red Wing and Mississippian communities to the south. No one knows today, though, precisely what type of relationship existed between Cahokia and the groups of people who lived in the Upper Mississippi Valley between 700 and 1000 years ago.

 
 



Some archaeologists have suggested that Energy Park represents a central place for Silvernale phase occupants of the Red Wing area. The presence of the flat-topped pyramidal mound in the nearby mound group suggests the site may have had a ceremonial role in the locality. Because the artifact deposits were not as extensive as at the other Red Wing Locality villages, it seems that the site was short lived.


Galena cubes from the Energy Park site
Galena chert recovered from 21GD158.

 
 




The Red Wing Archaeological Preserve


The public plays an important role in the study of archaeology. The archaeological record is vanishing quickly. Members of the Goodhue/Pierce Archaeological Society have helped procure funding, equipment and supplies for the preservation of Energy Park's archaeological resources. Their work has been critical to local site stewardship and to the study of the Red Wing Locality.

The Minnesota State Legislature provided funding to purchase the Red Wing Archaeological Preserve in May of 1989. The Goodhue County Board of Commissioners holds the site in public trust.

The Red Wing Archaeological Preserve is administered by a volunteer board consisting of local citizens, representatives of the Prairie Island Dakota Indian Community, and scientists.

 
 
 


 

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Updated 30 Jun 1999